The Sixers were right to trade Thaddeus Young. He's a player who, as much as I like him, would not be around beyond the 2014-15 season. Sam Hinkie and the Sixers were right to get something for him while they could.
The pick they got back was a fair return for Young. Not necessarily a great return, as Miami, even with Luol Deng replacing LeBron James, and even with the aging and injury-plagued new "Big 3", should be a top 4 team in the East if they are somehow able to remain relatively healthy, a feat which would seem like a minor miracle considering the recent injury histories of Dwyane Wade and Deng. Should that happen, though, that would put the pick somewhere in the 18-22 range. But, with the chance that Wade or Deng could miss significant time ever looming, there's a chance that the pick turns into a mid-teens draft selection and gives Sam Hinkie another valuable asset for a player who wasn't going to provide returns for much longer.
It was also quite possibly the right time to make the trade. With the specter of the 2014 NBA trade deadline still looming, which saw zero first round draft picks change hands, there was no guarantee that a better deal would have been available had Hinkie held on to Thad.
While the logical side of my brain can register this as the right move to make, the right side of my brain struggles to come to grips with it, even if it's something I've spent a year preparing for.
The first two moves in this rebuild were easy to get behind. The first move, while not originally intended to be a rebuilding move, was the Andre Iguodala for Andrew Bynum trade, a trade that was easy to get behind because of the glimmer of hope it gave to a desperate fan base. Iguodala was my favorite player of the post-Iverson era, a guy whom I had spent countless hours defending to a fan base that largely overlooked his contributions. But it was time to try something different, to take a chance at greatness, even if it ended up not working out.
The second move, the Jrue Holiday trade, was a slam dunk. For the second offseason in a row, the Sixers had traded my favorite player on the team, this time trading a player who had just made the All-star game at 22 years of age. But the move was such a slam dunk, such a tremendous coup for new general manager Sam Hinkie, that it was impossible to be upset with. As much as I liked Jrue Holiday, both the player and the person, he had significant holes in his game that needed to be corrected for him to become a superstar. A good player, but not likely to be great. To be able to get the best prospect in the 2013 draft, along with a second lottery pick, all the while improving the Sixers positioning for a draft that looked to have incredible top-end talent? The team was transformed overnight.
With the Thaddeus Young trade, for the third offseason in a row, the Sixers have traded a fan favorite, but the rewards are not nearly the same. It is a move that had to be made, but it's one that isn't necessarily likely to have a major impact going forward.
Over the last 4 years, Young has contributed 23.4 win shares for the Sixers. When looking at data from the drafts between 1990 and 2007, players selected between 18th and 22nd have only contributed 16.3 win shares for their careers, on average. Only 32% of those players contributed more for their careers than Thaddeus Young has in the last 4 years. Only 16% contributed more in their career than Thaddeus Young has through his age 25 season. Only 4% contributed greater than 60 win shares over their career, a conservative estimate on where Young may finish his career with. A mere 23% had a single season in their careers where they contributed 6.2 or more win shares, something Thad has done in 3 of the last 4 years. Over 40% never had a single season as productive as Thaddeus Young's worst professional season (2.1 win shares).
In short, the odds are against the Sixers getting a player as good as Thaddeus Young with Miami's pick. But the Sixers aren't getting Thaddeus Young's career by holding onto him, they're getting one more season, and it's a season where Young's production really doesn't provide any benefits in the grand scheme of things. Were they contending, the one season of Young's production may be more beneficial than the career of the Miami Heat's pick. But they're not.
Again, the left side of my brain recognizes the value in the trade. Even so, we should maintain a realistic expectation of the value of the pick that they received.
More than that, the Thaddeus Young trade is a realization of the consequences of the Sixers rebuild. As a player who just turned 26 years old, and who could have 15,000+ NBA minutes still left in him, Thaddeus Young didn't need to be jettisoned. He could still be useful to the Sixers when the rebuild starts to materialize. By many reports, it was Young's reluctance to go through with the rebuild that put the Sixers in this position, but it was the Sixers rebuild that put Young in his.
That's not to say that the path Sam Hinkie has chosen is a mistake because Thaddeus Young wishes to go elsewhere. The necessity to obtain a franchise player is still very real, and those players are very scarce. You don't let Thaddeus Young get in the way of that. But the realization of the consequences associated with the rebuild is a little bit sobering. This wasn't a trade to take a shot on an impact player. This wasn't trading high on an overvalued player to get assets that were simply too good to ignore, nor was it a trade to get something for a player who was not wanted long term. This was a young, productive player who was traded to salvage something from the situation we willingly created. It's a little dash of cold water, even for people who support the rebuild, and all that it entails.
The right move to make? Absolutely. Could they have realistically gotten more? Probably not. But am I jumping for joy? Not necessarily. Thad was a joy to watch, a pleasure to cover, and a guy that I would have taken on my team any day. I'm happy that they were able to get a first round pick, which marks the third year (out of 3) that Sam Hinkie has had 2 of the first 30 selections in the draft. But this trade is a much more somber moment for me than the previous steps of the rebuild.